Lost in…Piešťany

PfK Piešťany v Slovan Ostrov

Štadión PfK Piešťany / VII. Liga Trnava / 7th October 2017

I’ve lived in western Slovakia for over a year now and with me travelling most weekends to some random Slovak footballing backwater, I now feel confident that I’ve seen most of the west- certainly in regards of the big towns anyway. However, for reasons I’m still unclear to, I had still yet to visit one of the most famous towns in the area: the famous spa town of Piešťany. This was an even stranger fact considering the town is located just a short 25 minute train journey away from my home in Trnava (35km).

As previously stated, Piešťany is a spa town and possibly the most famous in all of Slovakia. The town is even twinned with a district of arguably the most renowned spa city in Europe: Budapest. The first spas were built in Piešťany in the 1800s, although they were destroyed in flooding, before being restored as neo-classical structures, similar to how they look today.

The Thermia Palace is undoubtedly the most iconic of the town’s spas, so much so it became an aristocratic hub. Kings, Dukes, Princes would all spend time there, although arguably Beethoven is the most famous visitor to the spa, when he visited in 1917 (there remains a plaque dedicated to him in the town’s main park).

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To be fair, it looks a lot nicer in the promotional stuff than from my shitty photography.

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In the town’s main park – a dedication to Beethoven’s visit.

Also linking to the spa, the town’s ubiquitous emblem, which I saw everywhere in printed form and in statue form, is that of Barlolámača. Legend has it that Barlolámača came into the town on crutches, but on visiting one of the spas he was suddenly completely healed and so destroyed his crutches by snapping them in half. The image of a man snapping his crutch in half can be seen everywhere in the town in ode to the legend of Barlolámača.

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The town’s mascot, Barlolámača. Here’s his statue before the bridge crossing to Thermia Palace.

I’d love to say that a certain Welsh groundhopper would be adding his name to the spa’s guestbook alongside musical maestroes, royalty and town legends, but it seemed that to take full advantage of the facilities, you needed to be staying at the fairly expensive resort. Sod that! 7th tier football and a brewery would do me for the day.

Despite Piešťany being so close to Trnava, for most of the day there is only one train there every two hours. With that in mind, I began my journey on the 10:30 train instead of the 12:30 train to give me plenty of time in Piešťany; plus, it’d give me enough time to make the walk to the brewery located away from the town itself.

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On arriving on the main street, Winterova.

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More of Winterova.

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And some sort of ornamental stuff leading to the main park.

I rolled into town and began the 10-15 minute walk from the station into the main hub of Piešťany. Usually this would be the part of the blog where I would say things like ‘typical Slovak town’ and the ‘streets were devoid of life’ but certainly not here in Piešťany. To my surprise there were actually lots of people going about their business. In the UK, a Saturday trip into town is in the norm, but Slovaks, especially in the smaller town, tend to hibernate for the afternoon over the weekend days. It was a nice change to see life on a weekend afternoon.

The town itself was actually really cool too. Although not huge – Piešťany has 30,000 inhabitants – there was still quite a lot to see. The main high street had a range of interesting buildings, which led onto the town’s massive park (my Google map showed me that the football ground was located at the far end of this, but that would be for later). The park was full of interesting structures such as a huge, abandoned gothic building, the Spa Museum and the very brutal, communist looking structure Dom umenia (the House of Arts). Plus, I found Beethoven’s plaque too; of course, this was located on the wonderfully named street, Beethovenova.

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Performance area in the park.

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Huge abandoned building with plenty of graffiti around it.

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The River Váh running through the heart of the town.

This took me right down to the River Váh and it was here I got my first glimpse of the famous palatial spa on the other side of the river. There’d be no visit inside it for me, but I still thought I should go over and have a nose. Across the bridge I headed and there it was…suppose not much else to say than it was rather grandiose…yeah we’ll leave it at that. Back across the bridge I headed and towards my pre-planned destination for an early afternoon beer.

I began a 2.5km walk away from the town along the river side. Even though I was heading away from the main hubbub of the centre, I could still hear the incessant sounds of the pipe-playing one-man-band on the town’s bridge. Anyway, I was heading away from the town’s famous spa and towards something I find far more soothing: a brewery.

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Walk down the river to the brewery.

Sometimes, my beloved Lokal Pub in Trnava gets in ŽiWell beer and so I’ve tried local Piešťany brew several times – it’s very good too. Additionally, I’d heard nothing but good things about the ŽiWell brewery and was keen to visit. I was so, so glad I did. The 25-30 minute walk was definitely worth it! This place ranks highly in the best places I’ve drunk beer so far this season. Just awesome!

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I know it doesn’t look like one, but this is indeed the brewery.

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Mmmm…beer…

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ŽiWell’s APA effort. Excellent stuff.

The brewery is located in what initially appears to be some sort of large holiday home next to the river (perhaps it used to be a holiday home) but within it are plenty of cool stuff – especially the awesome beer. Inside the building there is a large open bar area and a smaller upstairs area looking down too. All the beer tanks were out on display too and there was even technician repeatedly checking and monitoring one of the tanks near me as I sat in the bar. The staff were great too and certainly knew their beer. I suppose the only negative I could mention is its location away from the town, but, then again, the building being down by the river is really cool too. I tried the brewery’s APA and then IPA and then almost stayed for more, before instead opting to go see a bit more of Piešťany. Plus, the football ground was now quite a trek away from where I was and there was now just 2 hours until kick-off.

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According to Trip Advisor, this monument is one of the town’s most famous, although I couldn’t find out why.

Back at the town (with the irritating panpipes man still going strong in the background) I walked past the very pretty Kaplnka Božského Srdca Ježišovho, where a wedding was just finishing It was then up the high street to see where next to have a beer. Just because the outside looked so garish with its musical notes and musical icons daubed clumsily across the top of it, I decided to have a quick beer in the Music Pub. The place was proper busy to be fair, but still a bit shit – although that may have just been because I got a bit annoyed at how long it took the lethargic bar staff to actually serve me one drink. One quick beer and I was gone.

ŽiWell’s beer had treated me excellently so far on this Saturday afternoon, but there was no way I was heading all the way back to the brewery. However, luckily for me, and the folk of Piešťany,  ŽiWell have a bar acting as a more central hub in the town too: the simply named klub ŽiWell. Even more conveniently for me, the bar is located just 5-10 minutes away from the football ground. Perfect.

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The rather hipster klub ŽiWell.

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More beer with my new barmaid pal in the background.

I found the place easy enough, but initially it seemed to be closed up. A tentative push of the door said differently and I found myself in a long, narrow bar area and the sole occupant within it, except a young girl behind the bar. She was initially a bit taken back by an English speaker in the bar, but then proved herself to be a very accomplished in the language too, as she talked me through the beers on offer. When I asked her how her English was so good, she explained how she had done an Erasmus spell in Lancaster. More importantly for me, she even knew all about lovely Morecambe. It felt strange talking about Morecambe to a Slovak girl in a bar in the middle of Slovakia. Of course, a barmaid who can talk expertly about craft beers and Morecambe and Lancaster is fine by me. Again, I could have happily stayed longer after my two excellent beers, but kick-off was now looming.

A short walk in the park and the structure of Piešťany’s football ground appeared before me. It was nothing too outrageous or anything unique to Slovak football, but what I will say is that it is certainly a larger stadium compared to what you usually find in the 7th tier of Slovak football. That’s probably because PfK Piešťany are not really a 7th tier club.

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It was a walk in the park…

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…to get to the football ground.

Instantly I liked PfK Piešťany because of the fact that they were formed in 1912 – the same year as a certain Premier League team in south-west Wales who I may have a rather large soft spot for. Well, I say that PfK Piešťany were formed in 1912, the original club were at least. In 2015 that club ceased to exist, instead just surviving as a youth club for the younger teams. However, new ownership would arrive in 2016 and they immediately restarted PfK Piešťany; the club had played in the higher leagues, but would now be starting again in the 8th division.

Last season the club bulldozed through the 8th division and had a perfect season – literally. They went on to win every game at that level. Even off the pitch, the new guys were doing as much as possible to promote the club and unlike other clubs in the Slovak basement leagues, they have their own online shop selling Piešťany merchandise. I should add here that the club badge is also dominated by the crutch-snapping town legend, Barlolámača.

The sole stand in the ground is the large main stand with two concrete stepped entrances either side of it. One of these entrances had a sort of tunnel between the steps and here there was bedding being dried out on makeshift washing line. That’s when I looked up at the top of the stand and noticed that people seemed to be living in small flats at the top of it. Although the words ‘Sportshotel’ on the front suggested that this may just be another strange guesthouse. Crazily, this is not the first time I’ve seen this sort of thing at Slovak lower league grounds, but I still find it a remarkably strange sight. I can’t imagine it’s 5 star in there.

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Washing out.

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Miroslav Stoch shirt.

At the top of the steps I was met by two small boys asking me for a Euro – I assumed this was for entrance, but who knows. I gave it to them anyway. I was now in the ground proper and what was in front of me was a fairly standard ground for Slovakia: big main stand and a large, curving concrete terrace going around the rest of the pitch.

Below the stand was a fairly cool bar with bits of football memorabilia on the wall with a signed Miroslav Stoch shirt being the centrepiece; I stupidly didn’t investigate what shirt it was though, so if you want to play guess the shirt, the shirt is pictured below. Also, behind the bar were a random collection of PfK Piešťany merchandise, such as cushions, clocks, wallets etc. – nothing really football-y.

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In the stand.

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Teams are out.

With my €1.30 Krušovice in hand I headed back up into the stand to take in today’s game. ‘A bloodbath’ would be the best way to describe it. Piešťany have started this season where they finished off last season: by winning relentlessly. 8 games, 8 wins.

I may have been wrong, but I’m fairly Piešťany – wearing blue – came out to a Slovak version of Blue is the Colour, which I thought was brilliant. It’d be the away team, Slovan Ostrov, singing the blues by the end of the game though.

The game started slowly, so I decided to switch from the main stand to the open terrace opposite. I noticed there was a huge age contrast between age groups on either side – oldies in the stand, youngsters out on the terrace. Maybe it was some ageist hierarchy and the elders had earned the shelter of the stand.

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Got to love a mouldy, curving stone terrace.

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Match action.

It would take 22 minutes for Piešťany to take the lead. The goal was a true comedy of errors as the attacker went to tap into an empty net, but fluffed his lines; fortunately, for him, his cock-up instead hit a backtracking defender, who inadvertently hit the ball into his keeper, which then ricocheted over the line.

Moments later, it was 2-0, after a series of attacks led to one of many long throw-ins for the home team. This time the ball was simply thrown to an attacker, who turned unchallenged and fired in.

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The younger crowd.

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Match action.

A goalkeeping error led to Ostrov almost scoring, but the ensuing six yard box scramble was cleared off the line. This would be the away team’s only chance of the game. More disheartening for them would have been that moments before the end of the half, a very similar scramble in their own box led to Piešťany making it 3-0.

Half-time: PfK Piešťany 3 – 0 Slovan Ostrov.

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Nice scoreboard.

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Taken post-piss behind a skip.

My next issue with the ground was I couldn’t find any toilets, so I found myself pissing behind a skip in the car park, as the Macarena banged out over the PA system. The queue for beer at half-time meant by the time I had my second Krušovice in hand, it was time for the second half to begin. I had a feeling there’d be more goals this half…

Clearly the ‘seal had been broken’ and as I headed around the curving stone terrace again, nature called again. I headed down a convenient path and peed in some bushes. Of course, I missed a goal. 4-0 to Piešťany.

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My ‘coming out of a burrow’ like shot.

Ostrov were the definition of ‘omnishambles’ in second half. The 56th minute saw the score become 5-0 as an Ostrov goal kick led straight to a Piešťany attack; well, I say attack – it was more of a stroll towards goal before slotting under the keeper from 6 yards out.

In recent weeks, I’ve bizarrely developed a very sudden and unexplained addiction to those beautiful orange Tic Tacs.  They were clearly on my mind, as the only positive I could take from Ostrov’s performance was that their mindless, orange-shirted movement around the pitch reminded me of the chaotic movement of orange Tic-Tacs in their packaging. Goals no. 6, no. 7 and no. 9 duly and easily followed for the home team. All a mix of some lovely football from Piešťany and some of the worst defending I’ve perhaps ever seen live. Ostrov were truly pathetic.

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From the back row.

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Fans.

Inevitably, Piešťany hit 9 and the only positive Ostrov could possibly take from their very short trip to Piešťany was that they didn’t concede double figures. Piešťany were relentless throughout and even in he dying minutes, with the game long won, the home team were arguing vociferously with the linesman about a tight offside call against them. Utterly merciless towards Ostrov.

Full-time: PfK Piešťany 9 – 0 Slovan Ostrov.

As I said at the start – absolute bloodbath.

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Time to leave. Someone get the washing in though – it’s turning a bit grey.

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Thumbs up.

I headed back through the park and towards the modern Aupark shopping centre in the heart of Piešťany. Piešťany’s ground seemed to be lacking any sort of food vendor (what sort of sick and twisted Slovak football club doesn’t at least sell cigánska pečienka?) so a trip to Billa was required for some food. Armed with a spicy chicken baguette, I continued the trip towards the train station.

I arrived at the station with enough time to visit the dingy bar on the corner opposite it. I do love these sorts of places in Slovakia, as they are always full of genuine characters (or more often than not, utter nutcases). Hardly a nutcase but the middle-ages barmaid was indeed a very smiley character. She seemed genuinely excited to have a foreigner in her bar and was soon making a very giggly phone call. Moments later, she was putting me on the phone to her daughter, who is currently studying in university (I think that’s what she said) and could speak very good English. Her daughter asked what the hell I was doing in Slovakia because her mother was intrigued by me. I answered all her questions, before she began talking about the Piešťany girls probably swooning over me being a ‘rich foreigner’ in town. Whether this was a flirtatious ploy, I don’t know, but the conversation finished after that and the phone was passed back to the mother, who was then clearly getting all the gossip on me from her daughter. Think it was time to leave Piešťany

To be honest, as great as it was to see a 9-0 thrashing, the ground was nothing I hadn’t seen in Slovakia before. Although it is great to hear that the club are trying to push themselves forward off the pitch too, especially as not many clubs in the top league here can even be bothered to do that. Judging from the results over the past year and a bit, I have no doubt that Piešťany will be back in the higher leagues in the coming years.

The highlight of the day for me really was the town of the Piešťany. On my first walk through the town I immediately took a shine to the place, although I still even now can’t put my finger on why. I didn’t even visit the famous spa either. Perhaps it was just all the wonderful ŽiWell beer that did it!

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Cheers Piešťany (and ŽiWell)

Highlights: great town, cool park, spas, ŽiWell brewery, ŽiWell beer and klub ŽiWell, seeing a 9-0 is always fun.

Low Points: ground fairly generic for Slovakia, couldn’t find toilets (sure there must have been some though) or food in ground.

See all my photos from Piešťany here.

One thought on “Lost in…Piešťany

  1. Pingback: Lost in…Brestovany | Lost Boyos

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